Depression has many underlying causes that are not being adequately addressed by antidepressants. Learn about many causes of depression and how to reverse it naturally with diet, detoxification and other powerful natural remedies.
Depression is the number one cause of disability in the US. It affects 10 million people in the US alone and 340 million people worldwide (1). Depression is a normal emotion. It is a driver to action and change that has survival purposes. It’s only when it is prolonged that it becomes a problem – or when you decide to take antidepressant drugs that could alter your brain chemistry permanently.
Honestly, writing this article on depression got me a little depressed. My father was depressed as long as I knew him. And so was his mom (my gramgrams). She even underwent shock ‘therapy’ and suffered from alcoholism. I spent well over a decade struggling with depression myself. I had always assumed my depression had an inherited component. I now know differently.
In my efforts to overcome depression, I have studied it exhaustively in books, psychology classes, spent ten years in therapy, taking antidepressants and even using various stimulants and sugar to override my brain chemistry. None of it really worked, though I would feel better temporarily when I had a good therapy session, discovered an insight in a book or drank some coffee. There are so many underlying causes of this common problem that I now realize are the major contributing factors to depression. Once you know the true underlying causes of a health issues, you have the power to overcome it.
“In Buddhist philosophy, depression represents the inevitable consequence of seeking stimulation. The centuries old teachings suggest that we seek balance in our emotional health and lives, rather than continuously striving for the highs, and then complaining about the lows that follow.” ~ Dr. Andrew Weil
Depression is defined as having four or five or the following symptoms most of the day for at least two weeks. These symptoms include:
- Constant sadness or an empty feeling
- Feeling worthless or guilty for no reason
- Loss of interest in favorite activities
- Trouble sleeping
- Low energy or fatigue
- Significant weight change or appetite change
Causes of Depression
Depression has a few underlying causes that most do not know about – or they don’t make the connection. Namely, copper toxicity and heavy metal toxicity. These can have a profound impact on mood and yet I rarely read about their connection to depression.
The main biochemical and nutritional imbalances associated with feelings of depression include:
- Adrenal Fatigue
- Low Thyroid Function
- Lack of Sleep
- Copper Toxicity
- Heavy Metal Toxicity
- Mineral Deficiency
- Poor Diet
Removing these causes with my Myers Detox Protocol can make depression lift often within weeks or months, without any need for drugs, hormones, or other interventions. The results with myself and with clients further highlight these often overlooked causes of depression.
Depression is a natural reaction to stress and exhaustion. Depression can be a positive adaptation to exhaustion, which is caused by stress. In fact, depression occurs to prevent further depletion of energy that could cause more serious illness.
Stress depletes neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. If you use up your reserves living a stressful lifestyle, you will not have enough in reserve to produce good feelings.
Stress also causes adrenal fatigue and low thyroid function, which have a direct effect on our hormones and our moods.
Many people feel depressed because they are simply tired or burned out. It is estimated that two-thirds of the population suffer from adrenal fatigue. Depression is just the body’s way of saying it is too tired to want to do much of anything. Many people with adrenal fatigue must drag themselves through life, often using stimulants like caffeine, sugar, refined grains and even anger as a stimulant just to function.
When stressed or stimulated, the adrenal glands secrete cortisol, a hormone that provides a natural “high.” However, when a cortisol high plummets, it is replaced by achiness, fatigue and often a lowered mood and depression.
A simple test for this is whether you are achy in the morning. If you are a little stiff and it gets better as the day goes on, your adrenal glands may be fatigued and nutritionally depleted. The reason the aches and perhaps depression feelings improve as the day goes on is that the adrenals may begin to work better as the day progresses, usually due to stimulating them in some way with caffeine, sugar, etc.
Low Thyroid Function
Low thyroid function is a common cause of depression. Low thyroid hormones can play a role in a variety of emotional and behavioral symptoms and disturbances, including anxiety, excessive fear, mood swings, rage, irritability, confusion and obsessive/compulsive disorders.
Dr. Ridha Arem, in his book, The Thyroid Solution: A Mind Body Program for Beating Depression and Regaining Your Emotional and Physical Health, states:
Scientists now consider thyroid hormone one of the major “players” in brain chemistry disorders. And as with any brain chemical disorder, until treated correctly, thyroid hormone imbalance has serious effects on the patient’s emotions and behavior. (2)
Thyroid hormones T4 and T3 play a part in the optimal functioning of your brain, including your cognitive function, mood, ability to concentrate, memory, attention span, and emotions. Christiane Northrup, MD states that T3 “is actually a bona fide neurotransmitter that regulates the action of serotonin, norepinephrine, and GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid), an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is important for quelling anxiety.” She also states that, “If you don’t have enough T3, or if its action is blocked, an entire cascade of neurotransmitter abnormalities may ensue and can lead to mood and energy changes, including depression.”
Dr. Barry Durant-Peatfield, in his book Your Thyroid and How to Keep It Healthy, states that up to one-half of depression is due to unrecognized hypothyroidism. (3)
A simple cause for depression is lack of sleep. The most important factor is going to bed early before 10 PM. Many people who simply increase their amount of sleep will see their symptoms improve.
If you have difficulty sleeping, taking supplements can aid sleep. One of the most effective remedies is calcium and magnesium at bedtime. These are the minerals that relax your body and promote sleep. They were instrumental in regulating my sleep patterns and finally sleeping through the night after years of nightly waking. If callie and maggie don’t do the trick, try 5-htp, tryptophan or a supplement that contains many herbal and mineral sleep aids like Designs for Health Myosedate.
Sleep is absolutely critical for all aspects of health, including your thoughts and emotions. Be sure to not overlook this important and simple cause for depression.
Deficiencies of nutrient minerals, vitamins, amino acids and other important nutrients are a critical cause of depression in millions of people today. Even if you eat a healthy perfectly Paleo organic diet, the soils are deficient. Most people suffer quite severe mineral deficiencies today, which can manifest as depression.
Many minerals can play a role in feelings of depression. Zinc, for instance, stimulates the neocortex of the brain, which is the newer part of the brain. When zinc is deficient, the brain cannot function properly and depression can result.
Essential minerals including manganese, selenium, chromium and others affect carbohydrate tolerance and the body’s ability to regulate glucose metabolism. When these are deficient or unbalanced, this can cause severe fatigue and perhaps feelings of depression.
Hair mineral analysis of depression sufferers usually reveal elevated levels of calcium. This means that you may feel depressed because you have too much calcium in your body tissues where it doesn’t belong. This is caused by adrenal fatigue. Calcium stabilizes cell membranes and increases the voltage at which nerve cells fire. This effectively has a depressive effect on the central nervous system. This is an extremely common cause of depression. The only way I know to correct this issue is with balancing the body chemistry with a mineral balancing program like Myers Detox Protocol. Simply taking calcium or avoiding it does not remedy this problem.
Metal Toxicity and Depression
A number of metals can contribute to depression. Excess copper, nickel, mercury, cadmium, lead, arsenic and/or aluminum are often found in hair mineral tests and blood tests of those with depression. Low level toxicities of these metals are surprisingly common due to their prevalence in our air, food and water and due to many people’s reduced ability to detox them from the body. Removal of these metals can lift depression without any other changes in a person’s life.
Copper toxicity is a very common mineral imbalance associated with feelings of depression. This type of depression is often accompanied by excessive emotions of many types such as anger, rage, frustration and others. This is very common today, due to:
- Adrenal fatigue
- Zinc deficiency
- Copper in the environment – copper piping
- Vegetarian diets (rich in copper and low in zinc, which antagonizes copper)
- Drugs like steroids, birth control pills
- Copper IUD’s
Copper is known to stimulate production of neurotransmitters that enhance brain activity. (5) They include epinephrine, norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin. Copper toxicity is associated with symptoms of mind racing, insomnia and inability to stop thoughts (rumination – a common feature of depression).
Although there are numerous reasons for the prevalence of copper toxicity, the most important cause is adrenal gland insufficiency. Individuals with adrenal insufficiency are unable to utilize copper properly. Copper is only bioavailable if it is attached to a protein substance for transport and storage. Ceruloplasmin is a protein that binds copper so that it can be utilized in biochemical reactions.
When the adrenal glands are underactive, they are unable to send out a message to the liver to release ceruloplasmin from the liver and, therefore, copper becomes biounavailable. As a result of excessive tissue storage of biounavailable or unbound copper, copper toxicity and a deficiency of available copper occur, even when dietary intake of copper is more than adequate.
Adrenal fatigue > Copper toxicity > Excessive neurotransmitter stimulation > Depression
Beware that the copper levels in the blood, the urine and in the hair can all be normal even when one has copper toxicity. Blood is not a reliable indicator of copper toxicity. Most often copper will be low on an RBC blood test, when in fact the person is copper toxic because the copper is stored in the liver, brain, heart and reproductive organs. To identify copper toxicity, I find the best method is identifying overt copper toxicity (high copper) or the hidden copper indicators on a properly performed hair tissue mineral analysis. To learn about this, and to read more about this cause of depression, read Copper toxicity Syndrome.
Toxicity with nickel is highly associated with severe depression, usually accompanied by anger and suicidal thoughts. Excess nickel comes from wearing dental braces, drinking too much rooibos tea (or other red teas), or eating hydrogenated oils (nickel is used as a catalyst in the processing of the oil). Occasionally it is due to wearing nickel-plated costume jewelry or occupational exposure in metalworking industries.
Amazingly, when the nickel is removed from the body, which in some cases can occur within a few months on a Myers Detox Protocol program, all of a sudden, the depressed and suicidal thoughts just go away, even when one’s life has not changed in other ways.
Cadmium, Mercury, Arsenic and Lead
Other toxic metals including cadmium, mercury, lead, and arsenic commonly cause brain fog and depression. They are found in tap water, junk food, medical drugs, cigarette smoke and enter our bodies from the air. Toxic metals may interfere with energy production, alter neurotransmitter levels and can affect all body systems. You can learn more about symptoms and sources of toxicities of these metals in my Toxic Metal Guide.
Hair mineral analysis may or may not reveal the presence of these toxic metals on the first or even on a second hair mineral analysis. It may take a few months to a year or more of following a Myers Detox Protocol for the body to begin to eliminate most of a person’s toxic metals, which everyone has today to some degree. This occurs because the toxic metals are usually buried deep within the brain and elsewhere, and will not show up on any toxic metal tests, including urine challenge tests, feces tests, hair or blood tests. In other words, do not assume you do not have toxic metals just because all the tests are normal. This is rarely the case today.
Of course, diet is a major factor in depression. Naturally, when the brain and body do not receive the proper nutrients, they will not function properly. The most common nutrient deficiencies seen in depression are omega-3 fats and eating foods that deplete the body of minerals like sugar and refined grains.
Deficiency of Essential Fatty Acids
Low dietary intake of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA, is linked to depressed mood, hostility, and impulsive behavior. (10) High intake of EPA and DHA is associated with increased gray matter volume in brain regions controlling depression and mood. (11) In controlled clinical studies, depressed patients randomly assigned to receive omega-3 fatty acids have demonstrated greater improvement compared with those assigned to placebo. (12,13)
A large Norwegian study of nearly 22,000 participants revealed that those who regularly took cod liver oil, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, were about 30% less likely to have symptoms of depression than those who did not. The longer the participants took cod liver oil, the less likely they were to have high levels of depression. (7)
Omega-6 fats compete with omega-3 fats in our brains. The ratio should be about 1:1, but today is about 10:1 and even 25:1 for many people eating a typical diet. (8,9) Omega-6 fats are found in nearly all processed, refined and restaurant foods, and recent statistics suggest they may constitute as much as 20% of calories in the average American’s diet.
Today, most people eat a predominance of the omega-6 fatty acids found in vegetable oils. However, omega-6 fats are also found in grain-fed meats, poultry, butter, milk and other foods because the animals are not allowed to graze freely on grasses. Instead, they are fed corn, soy and other grains (usually GMO). The correct fatty acids are important for proper functioning of the brain and central nervous system.
Most people today, especially children, eat sugar, toxic food additives and other substances found in processed foods that provide little to no nutrition and can promote depression. Consuming anti-nutrient ‘foods’ like refined sugar, Aspartame, MSG, and foods that have been stripped of nutrients like bleached, white flour aggravate deficiencies and open the way for the development of depression in many people. Not only do they not provide nutrients, but they require minerals and nutrients for their digestion, robbing them from your body.
Hypoglycemia and Diabetes
The brain is highly dependent on a constant level of blood sugar. It uses 20% of the body’s glucose (sugar). When blood sugar levels vary, it causes lowered energy, mood fluctuations, confusion and you guessed it – depression. Many people with depression are on a blood sugar rollercoaster all day long as one’s energy level and mood fluctuate all day. Most people are deficient in trace minerals, including zinc, manganese, chromium and others that are required for blood sugar regulation.
Correcting blood sugar imbalances like hypoglycemia (and even diabetes) is easy with a mineral balancing program like Myers Detox Protocol. It simply requires the proper diet and correcting the balance of calcium to magnesium. Stopping all sweets and eating some protein and fats every three or four hours will take care of some cases of hypoglycemia.
When hypoglycemia persists for years, it turns into diabetes, another cause of depression. With diabetes, one may often feel tired frequently and eat sweets to avoid feeling shaky or weak. Frequent urination is also a sign. This is a physical cause for depression that often is overlooked by psychiatrists and psychologists.
Drugs that Cause Depression
A number of drugs have depression as a side effect. Among the most important are cortisone therapy, especially as one reduces the dose, birth control pills, patches and the birth control IUD, hormone replacement therapies, depressants such as valium or benzodiazepines like Xanax, ADHD drugs, and blood pressure medications such as beta blockers. Here is a list of other drugs that can cause depression.
Always be sure to check the side effects of any medication you are using on a regular basis if depression begins to occur. Even if depression is not a recognized side effect of a medication, it can still cause the problem and a trial without the drug or using another drug instead can be worthwhile.
Medications of all kinds can cause depression directly by inhibiting various neurotransmitters in the brain. They can also cause depression by inhibiting or interfering with other nutrients. They may also affect your appetite, sex life, sleep habits, or other areas that lead indirectly to feelings of sadness, inadequacy or other problems. This applies to over-the-counter remedies equally as it applies to prescription or recreational drug use.
For example, birth control pills, patches or the newer insertable Nuvo-ring can cause depression by affecting copper balance and inducing copper toxicity. Many are unaware that these drugs can affect one’s entire personality and can even cause suicidal thoughts.
A recent study reviewed all of the past studies on four popular anti-depressant drugs, including SSRI antidepressants. The researchers concluded that antidepressants are no better than placebo, except for some very severe cases of depression. This was a groundbreaking and shocking study that cannot be denied. (6)
The study was particularly interested in whether the drugs had different effects on people with different levels of depression. Here is what they found:
- Mild depression: not tested as mild depression is usually treated with a ‘talk therapy’ rather than antidepressants.
- Moderate depression: antidepressants made “virtually no difference”.
- Severe depression: antidepressants had a “small and clinically insignificant” effect.
- Very severe depression: antidepressants had a significant clinical benefit.
The authors, therefore, concluded that there’s no point in prescribing SSRI antidepressants to anyone but the most severely depressed people, unless other treatments have been tried and failed. (6) Watch this eye-opening 60 Minutes segment to learn more about how antidepressants are found to work by placebo effect.
Even given the evidence, do not stop antidepressant medication without planning and the assistance of your physician. Many patients report side effects when stopping these drugs. Adverse effects of stopping antidepressants may include insomnia, headache, nausea, depression, anxiety and many more. You definitely want to taper off slowly over weeks or even months.
How to Overcome Depression Naturally
The following represents my recommendations to heal depression and banish it from your life for good. Finding your life’s purpose doesn’t hurt, but short of that, there are many things you can do to treat depression without medication. It’s a longer road, but the work is well worth it.
- Myers Detox Protocol. Myers Detox Protocol will build a solid foundation of physical and mental health. The body is nourished with proper diet, custom supplementation, lifestyle modifications and detoxification – all important factors that must be addressed to relieve depression. Symptomatic vitamin or herb therapies or antidepressants may work for a time, but do not rebuild the body chemistry or detox the body, which I think is essential in overcoming depression. Targeted mineral and vitamin supplementation, custom to your body chemistry, is far superior to taking random vitamin, mineral or products to remove toxic metals. Correcting body chemistry by correcting mineral levels and ratios of calcium magnesium, sodium and potassium, etc, is an important factor in correcting any depression. This is done systematically with a Myers Detox Protocol program.
- Acupuncture. This modality has proven itself to be very useful in treating several mood disorders, including depression.
- Seek professional help. Find a psychotherapist, mental health professional or grief counselor who can help you explore the elements contributing to your depression and facilitate recovery. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be especially helpful. Again, this is typically a long-term solution.
- Exercise. For more immediate, symptomatic depression treatment, there is no better method than regular aerobic exercise. Numerous studies have demonstrated the efficacy of a daily workout for improving emotional health and boosting self confidence. I recommend thirty minutes of mild to moderate exercise, a few days a week.
- Meditation. The daily practice of meditation is the best emotional detox one could ask for. All answers lie within. This is perhaps the best way to address the root of depression and change it. This requires long-term commitment, however, as meditation does not produce immediate results. I like the meditations of Project-meditation.org and Roy Masters.
- Check your meds. Make sure you are not taking any over-the-counter or prescription medications that contribute to depression. Avoid all antihistamines, tranquilizers, sleeping pills and narcotics if you have any tendency toward depression.
- Avoid recreational drugs. You should also be cautious about the use of recreational drugs, notably alcohol, cocaine, amphetamines, diet pills, downers, marijuana and ecstasy. Many who are really depressed are drawn to these substances to feel better. These substances certainly provide a temporary sense of relief, but will eventually intensify depression if used regularly, notably by using up all your feel good neurotransmitters and depleting the body in other ways.
- Eat a well balanced diet. The Modern Paleo diet will provide you with the correct amounts of protein, fats and carbs needed to have a health brain and body.
- Omega-3 fats. Ensure your meat is grass fed and your fish is wild. Avoid omega-6 rich foods like grain-fed meats, vegetable oils, etc. If you eat grain fed meet, you increase your needs for omega-3.
- Cut caffeine. Addiction to coffee and other forms of caffeine often interferes with normal moods and can aggravate depression.
- Avoid sugar. Mood killers like sugar and anything that turns into sugar like processed grains should be avoided as much as possible.
- Fish oil. Recent preliminary studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil may be helpful in maintaining a healthy mood. I think that reasonable doses of fish-oil supplements (1,000 – 2,000 mg per day) might be useful in addressing mild depression. Fish oil is an excellent source of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an essential fatty acid found in nerve and brain tissue. Supplement with a high quality fish oil like Jigsaw Essential Omega.
- B vitamins. The B vitamins, especially folate and vitamin B6, can be helpful in mild depression.
- St. John’s wort. Recent scientific research has provided evidence for this herb’s ability to relieve depression by promoting healthy serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine levels as well as GABA receptor function. Standardized extracts have shown an effectiveness equaling Prozac in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. It should not be taken with birth control pills or antidepressant medications, especially SSRIs. Try 300mg of an extract of 0.3 percent hypericin, three times a day. It takes about eight weeks to feel the effects. I really like Protocols of Life St. John’s Wort.
- SAMe. SAMe is well known for its ability to relieve symptoms of depression. SAMe works more quickly than St John’s wort. Use only the butanedisulfonate form in capsules. Try 400-1,600 mg a day on an empty stomach. I like Designs for Health SAMe.
When Will I Feel Better?
Some people feel better in a week or two when they eliminate sugar from their diet and begin sleeping more. Most people start to feel better on my Myers Detox Protocol fairly rapidly. For most, recovery will take longer, depending on many factors.
For example, if one’s depression is physical, then physical changes like diet and supplementation and correcting body chemistry will improve it. However, if it is emotional, mental or spiritual or circumstantial, then other types of changes are needed to alleviate the condition.
Even if it is a simple physical depression, improvement may require at least several months. This occurs because the body has buffering systems to prevent it from absorbing too much of any nutrient at once, as this would upset body chemistry. Thus, making significant changes in body chemistry always takes time. Similarly, making important emotional and lifestyle changes may also take time. Thus, you should not be discouraged if time is required to overcome depression.
The main thing to remember about depression is to avoid being depressed about being depressed! You can overcome this issue with simple, consistent lifestyle changes, improved nutrition and detox. Depression is often a signal that one has adrenal and thyroid fatigue, is copper toxic, hypoglycemic or suffers some other physical imbalance. For this type of depression, a Myers Detox Protocol is ideal.
In other cases, mental fixations or emotional imbalances can also cause depression feelings. One may need meditation, talking with a counselor, or a new lifestyle to overcome this type of problem.
Very rarely, drug therapy may be helpful for severe cases of depression. Drugs have many side effects, are toxic to the body and can permanently alter brain chemistry. Therefore, I recommend trying a natural approach first, in all cases.
Click here for References+
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2. Arhem, Rida, MD. The Thyroid Solution: A Mind Body Program for Beating Depression and Regaining Your Emotional and Physical Health. Ballantine Books; Rev Upd edition, 2007.
3. Durant-Peatfield, Barry, MD. Your Thyroid and How to Keep It Healthy. Hammersmith Press Limited; 2nd edition, 2006.
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11. Conklin SM, Gianaros PJ, Brown SM, et al. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acid intake is associated positively with corticolimbic gray matter volume in healthy adults. Neurosci Lett. 2007 Jun 29;421(3):209-12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17574755
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